Leaning into the “B” Word
Being a worker is hard. Being a working woman is more challenging. And being a working mother with a chronic illness can genuinely feel like you’re playing the game of life on ‘Expert’ mode. Especially when you struggle with saying “no.” You find yourself obligated to many people while your personal obligations go ignored. You end up tired, stressed, and resentful, making you feel guilty because you feel like you are letting everyone down.
I was the first girl born into a traditional Black Southern Baptist family. I was raised to be a caretaker, to put aside my needs and feelings for the sake of everyone else. That was what being a “good girl” (and later a “good wife” and a “good mother”) was all about. If you didn’t, well, you were being selfish…which was one of the ultimate sins a woman (especially a Black woman) can make.
Once the pandemic hit, my life was upended like so many others. Change and stress were abundant. My mental health was suffering under the weight of it all. I was forced to push back at my upbringing/societal conditioning that I’ve internalized and unwittingly allowed others to continue pushing onto me.
As I’ve grown older with time and experience, I realized that establishing boundaries is not some new age ideology, and it’s certainly not some 4-letter word.
I’ve also learned that putting firm boundaries in place allows me to live life more peacefully because I’m centering my needs above all else. I’m convinced that filling your cup first is crucial to maintaining sanity as a working mom.
Once I accepted that I needed boundaries, I began learning how to set them by looking for examples that fit my lifestyle. That required me to find other Black, neurodivergent women (some single, some partnered, some with kids) and begin to see how they addressed their needs.
One by one, they confirmed what I had somehow always known: the way I was taught to engage with the world was not only harmful to me but also harmful to other women. I began to recognize patterns of abuse, disrespect, and neglect in how people treated me and began to build new, healthy ways of addressing it. But most importantly, I realized that boundaries are not some universal thing. They’re as unique as snowflakes and fingerprints and flexible as we allow them.
Boundaries don’t have to be significant: It can be something as simple as turning down a lunch invitation at work or putting off doing a household chore in favor of resting. It can tell your kids you need 30 minutes of quiet time right after work to decompress. Boundaries mean making decisions based on what’s best for you, both in the moment and long term. Starting small can help you practice building ones for more important things in your life.
And you may find that the people in your life might struggle with your newly placed boundaries. That’s okay. If they love and respect you, they’ll adjust. If not, you’ll have to decide how comfortable you are with them having access to you. Having a sound support system can help uplift you in times of uncertainty. In the quest for emotional and mental health, these consequences are not bad things but beginning steps to a fulfilling life.